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Justine Damond

As regular readers know, I often write on police misconduct, or accusations of the same. In reporting on such things, I rely on what I’ve come to call my “cop sense,” which is rather like Spiderman’s “spidey sense.” I primarily rely on media reports, which are often wrong, and my experience as a police officer. Often, what isn’t said or done by the police or local politicians speaks more loudly and accurately than what is said or done.

In the Erik Scott case, early reports set off my cop sense. Everything about that case sounded wrong. It smelled like a police cover up from the first article I read, and so it was. In the Freddie Gray case, it was the opposite. It smelled like a political witch hunt against innocent officers, and so it was. The same was true of the Michael Brown case. In the Brown and Gray cases, race was a significant factor. Brown and Gray were black, and the officers involved–mostly–were white. As one might imagine, race hustlers rode those narratives for all they were worth, but in both case, the rule of law ultimately prevailed.

Zach (L) and Don Damond (R)

Now we have the case of Australian native Justine Damond, the 40 year-old fiancé of a Minneapolis man, Don Damond. On July 15, 2017, Damond made the mistake of calling the Minneapolis police to report a woman screaming in the alley behind her home. The police arrived, Damond, wearing pajamas and reportedly carrying only a cell phone, went outside to meet them, and within seconds, was shot in the stomach by Officer Mohamed Noor. She died shortly thereafter, presumably from massive internal bleeding.

Noor, a native of Somalia, is said, by various reports, to be one of only a handful of Somalis on the Minneapolis force, r the first Somali on that force. He is, obviously, black. Damond was white. Race is, these days, significant, though it shouldn’t be. As one might suspect, while the case had drawn significant local media interest, it has barely been touched by a national media focused on the Russia All The Time narrative, and fundamentally uninterested in the violence committed by black people, even police officers.

Understand, once again, my only sources for this, the first of what will likely be several articles in this case, are news reports, with all their inherent narratives and biases. Even so, there is already much that is deeply disturbing and revealing. Understand too that “violence” committed by Officer Noor, if properly and lawfully employed would likely be lawful and justified, and absent facts likely not in evidence, not at all racially motivated. However, race is already being injected by local politicians.

Mohamed Noor (center)

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune provides a partial transcript of the incident (an audio transcript is here):

Dispatch: ‘Squad 530 to 5024 Washburn Avenue South. Female screaming behind the building.’

Officer on scene: ‘530, uh, shots fired. Can we get EMS Code 3 Washburn and 51st Street? We got one down.’

Dispatch: ‘Copy. Shots fired at Washburn and 53rd Street. Correction 51st. Sergeant to acknowledge shots fired and one down at Washburn.’

Sergeant on duty: ‘Copy’

Dispatch: ‘Copy 502’

Officer: ‘506 as well’

Dispatch: ‘Copy 506’

Officer: (garbled)

Dispatch: ‘Copy’

Officer: ‘530, I’m starting CPR.’

Dispatch: ‘Copy 530, starting CPR.’

Officer: ‘530, we’re north of the alleyway, 51st Street, Washburn even side.’

Dispatch: ‘Copy north of alley, 51st Street, even side. 5520 arrived (garbled). Squad 530 are you Code 4 for medical?’

Officer: ‘530 Code 4 for medical.’

Dispatch: ‘530 Code 4 for medical at 23:45.’

Officer: ‘530, there are no suspects at large.’

Dispatch: ‘Copy 530, no suspects at large.’

Officer: ‘520, where is EMS on this?’

Dispatch: ‘EMS is coming. Rescue is coming.’

Officer: ‘502 they’re behind me at 53rd and Oliver.’

Unknown: ‘Rescue’s arrived.

This is a very odd transcript, and the audio transcript is equally odd. From the recording, it’s impossible to tell whether the recording has been altered–I don’t have the necessary equipment–but from the completed dispatch of the initial call until one of the officers on the scene calls “shots fired,” takes only about three seconds(?!). This would indicate that either the tape has been altered–something has been removed–or the officers were already present, perhaps even shooting, before the dispatch call. The idea they could have arrived, spoken with Damond, and shot her within 3 seconds beggars belief.

Also significant is the two officers–unit 530–again within roughly a minute, telling the dispatcher, and other responding units, “there are no suspects at large.” This would seem to suggest they knew there was no danger in the area–Noor already shot the only person in the area–and I suspect they also knew how badly they screwed up. They shot the only “suspect” present, and she was armed only with a cell phone. As I’ve often noted, the mere fact someone is not armed is not proof they are harmless, but there is much more about this case, already, that is disturbing. The Startribune reports:

While many of the details about what happened Saturday night in the city’s southwest corner have not been disclosed, this much was: She called to report a possible assault in the alley behind her house in one of the city’s safest neighborhoods and was unarmed when officer Mohamed Noor shot her.

Amid a public outpouring of grief and outrage, Chief Janeé Harteau issued her first comments on the shooting, saying she too wanted an explanation, and called on the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension [BCA] to perform a speedy investigation. [skip]

Just before 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Damond, 40, called 911 to report a possible assault occurring in an alley near her home between Washburn and Xerxes avenues S., in the Fulton neighborhood.

Damond, in her pajamas, went to the driver’s side door of the responding squad and was talking to the officer, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the case.

Moments later, Noor shot across his partner from the passenger’s seat, killing Damond.

Let us assume this report is accurate. Other reports suggest Noor, 31, only had two years on the job, and his partner–Officer Matthew Harrity, 25, perhaps only a single year. Here we have Officer Harrity, behind the wheel, speaking to Damond through the open window of the police vehicle. Apparently within mere seconds, Noor, from the front passenger’s seat, drew his handgun, and shooting across Harrity’s body, shot Damond through the window. In other words, he stuck his handgun in Harrity’s face and fired. No competent officer would do this absent an unmistakably immediate and deadly threat Harrity did not recognize and/or could not respond to quickly enough.

Competent officers would want to get out of their police vehicle as quickly as possible, such vehicles in an alley being bullet magnets, yet these officers apparently felt comfortable remaining seated and speaking with Damond. Competent officers do not like anyone to approach them and speak to them through the windows of their vehicle. It’s a bad tactical situation, limiting their vision and ability to respond. Yet, this situation seems to have unfolded within a mere handful of seconds, perhaps leaving the officers little time to do much of anything.

Minneapolis/St. Paul, commonly known as the Twin Cities, is an unabashedly liberal bastion. The last Republican mayor left office at the end of 1973, 44 years ago. The area also has a large Somali immigrant population, and as one might imagine, there have been significant difficulties with assimilation–or lack thereof. A number of local Somalis have been prosecuted for terrorist activities, and there have, in recent years, been several high-profile shootings of black men by the police, producing the kinds of social justice narratives one might expect:

The incident comes just weeks after the acquittal of then-St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who fatally shot Philando Castile in a high-profile incident whose aftermath was broadcast live on Facebook, and less than two years after the Minneapolis police shooting of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man.

The Minneapolis PD apparently has a body camera policy, and both officers were apparently wearing such cameras. It also seems their vehicle was equipped with a dash camera. Apparently, no video recordings were made of the incident. This might not be at all suspect. Officers in this agency apparently activate their cameras only when they think they might be needed. There would be no need to turn on cameras while driving down an alley, or when approached by what must have appeared, at least to Harrity, to be the reporting party, a women in pajamas, and even if the dash camera were in operation–again, there would be no apparent need for it–if would have recorded no video of action occurring behind the lens, though it might have recorded audio. Fortunately, it’s unlikely video or audio recordings will be necessary to understand what happened and why.

It is professional practice to have an outside agency investigate officer involved shootings. A later Startribune report contains a BCA statement:

Three sources with knowledge of the incident said Sunday that two officers in one squad car, responding to the 911 call, pulled into the alley. Damond, in her pajamas, went to the driver’s side door and was talking to the driver. The officer in the passenger seat pulled his gun and shot Damond through the driver’s side door, sources said. No weapon was found at the scene.

‘Two Minneapolis police officers responded to a 911 call of a possible assault just north of the 5100 block of Washburn Avenue S. just before 11:30 p.m. Saturday,’ the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in a news release. ‘At one point, an officer fired their weapon, fatally striking a woman.’

‘The BCA’s investigation is in its early stages. More information will be available once initial interviews with incident participants and any witnesses are complete. … The officers’ body cameras were not turned on at the time and the squad camera did not capture the incident. Investigators are attempting to determine whether any video of the incident exists.

It’s unlikely any more specific information will be released until the BCA’s investigation is complete, which should not take long. There are only two witnesses to the shooting, and any forensic examination should take little time as well. While the media will be clamoring for information, it is also wise and professional practice for the police to release nothing until they are certain about the evidence, and until the investigation is completed.

Given the nature of Minneapolis in particular, and the contemporary state of politics in police work, another important and pertinent question must be answered: was Noor a diversity hire? In other words, was he hired primarily because he is black and a Somali, and not because he was qualified and competent to do the job? In yet another article, the Startribune reports:

After changing careers to join the Minneapolis Police Department in 2015, Mohamed Noor was lauded by the mayor and his fellow Somalis as a welcome addition to the force.

‘I want to take a moment to recognize Officer Mohamed Noor, the newest Somali officer in the Minneapolis Police Department,’ Mayor Betsy Hodges posted on Facebook last year. ‘Officer Noor has been assigned to the 5th Precinct, where his arrival has been highly celebrated, particularly by the Somali community in and around Karmel Mall.

Such a specific notice for any police officer, particularly in a major city, is unusual, to say the least. It would seem to be a nod to the proper progressive, diversity narrative.

Noor holds a degree in business administration, management and economics from Augsburg College. Before joining the department, he worked in commercial and residential property management in Minneapolis and St. Louis, and was general manager of a hotel in Eden Prairie.

Noor is apparently an educated man, but that does not, alone, qualify him for police work.

According to the Office of Police Conduct Review, Noor has had three complaints filed against him, two of which remain open. Another was closed without discipline. Noor has been sued once in his short career with the police department, stemming from an incident on May 25 in which he and two other officers went to a woman’s home and took her to a hospital, which the woman alleges constituted false imprisonment, assault and battery. According to the ongoing lawsuit, the officers claimed they had reason to believe the woman was suffering a mental health crisis — which she denied — and Noor ‘grabbed her right wrist and upper arm,’ exacerbating a previous shoulder injury in the process.

This is the only complaint regarding Noor about which we have any knowledge. It is, however, unusual for a two-year officer to have so many. Every police officer, unless he is doing essentially nothing, will have the occasional complaint, but few get to the stage of a formal investigation. On the other hand, the MPD might, in response to racial politics, formally investigate everything, where other agencies would not. I just don’t know.

Scott Johnson at Powerline adds a bit of information:

By contrast with his performance in the Castile case, Governor Dayton has maintained his silence. One can only speculate why. Perhaps the governor regrets his performance in that case. Perhaps there is something different about this case.

In this case there is no heartbreaking video. In this case, moreover, the officer involved is black and the shooting victim is white. Indeed, as of March 2015, Officer Noor is the first Somali officer on the Minneapolis police force. I take it there will be no rush to judgment in this case and that we will be spared the disruptive protests featured in the Castile case. We may have to be grateful for small mercies.

I reached out to a trusted law enforcement source for any insight he might be able to offer. He responds: ‘My first thought was that it was accidental, but rumor has it [Officer Noor is] denying that it was a negligent discharge.’ He adds: ‘If there aren’t some sort of mitigating circumstances, and I’m struggling to imagine what they could be, this may be the most egregious police shooting in my lifetime if not longer…But not many facts are known at this point and it’s hard to pass judgment before knowing more than what’s being leaked to the media.

Mayor Hodges (L), Asst. Chief Arradondo (L)

Governor Dayton, a man with a history of mental health problems, has been very outspoken, and predictably so, whenever the police have shot a black person. His silence in this case, again, may suggest his alignment with the progressive narrative. Progressives commonly hate the police, but for the moment, race, and the local investment in Muslim/Somali immigrants and diversity, seems to trump even that. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, and assistant Police chief Medaria Arradondo have been equally circumspect. I suspect Johnson’s source is correct: rational Americans and specifically, conservatives, don’t riot.

Final Thoughts:

Again, gentle readers, let me stress my limitations in analyzing this case. I know only what media sources are telling me, but experience helps to fill in the blanks. The initial encounter between Damond and the officers, particularly the time frame, is very odd, and certainly will be one of the focuses of any competent investigation.

Most important in this case will be the testimony of the two officers, and particularly that of Officer Harrity. Pity him. He’s caught in the middle of a racial narrative, with negative consequences for lies and the truth. I suspect his testimony will be that he was talking to Damond, and suddenly, his ears were ringing and she was falling. If so, this will likely be the truth. He may have seen nothing at all threatening, which does not mean Noor could not have seen something. It would not be surprising to discover he suffered hearing damage, and some injuries to his face and eyes. It will be interesting to hear what Noor might have said to him, and done, post-shooting. While information is, as yet, inconclusive, it appears Noor fired a single shot.

As Scott Johnson’s source notes, it’s difficult to imagine what could have caused Noor to shoot Damond. It’s also difficult to imagine how this shooting can be ruled reasonable. Noor might have seen Damond’s cell phone, and thinking it a gun, shot her, but considering the circumstances as they’re currently known, that would be a very lame justification indeed. Apparently the alley was well lit. Noor might be a well intentioned, perhaps even qualified, officer, but this may be the kind of mistake from which there is no recovery. If so, his race and national origin may protect him from the kinds of consequences that would befall a white, American officer in Minneapolis. It’s unlikely such a shooting would rate more than a few brief articles in the local media.

If it’s correct Noor is saying this was not a negligent discharge, that’s not a good thing for him. How could such an ND possibly occur in these circumstances? It would require, at the least, Noor to draw his weapon, aim it at Damond–virtually in the face of Harrity–and put his finger on the trigger. No competent officer would ever do such a thing. Again, if the time frame of the audiotape is correct, all of this happened in mere seconds. If the tape has somehow been edited, that’s another, and very damaging issue. If the officers were already present and speaking to Damond before they got the call, which is possible, that’s also a very problematic thing to explain.

At the moment, this appears to be a monumental police mistake. It is unlikely racial strife will be a part of this situation, primarily because the political elite of Minneapolis, and the management of the Police Department, have a vested interest in maintaining the racialist narrative long established there and elsewhere. Of course, there is no known evidence race was involved here, but there is, for the Left, no advantage in protesting the death of a white woman at the hands of a black police officer.

More as it develops.